Sure, the RedHawks finished 5-7 overall and 4-4 in the Mid-American Conference this season after winning their last six regular-season games in 2016 to finish 6-6 overall and share the MAC East Division championship with a 6-2 conference record, but four of their 2017 losses were one-possession games. In a fifth, the 37-29 loss to Bowling Green, they had a first down on the Falcons’ 1-yard line in the last two minutes when a shotgun snap grazed a blocking back and fell for a fumble Bowling Green returned 93 yards for a touchdown.
“We’re disappointed about the games we could’ve won if we’d executed down the stretch,” said the fourth-year coach, whose team wrapped up the season with a convincing 28-7 win at Ball State on Nov. 21. “We had the opportunity to win five more games. I liked the way we ended up, playing winning football, but we had the opportunity to win other games and we didn’t do it.
“Learning how to build a championship program takes time. Building a championship program takes time.”
That doesn’t mean Miami didn’t make progress in several areas. The RedHawks lose to graduation three starters on each side of the ball – wide receivers Sam Martin and Jared Murphy and tight end Ryan Smith on offense, nose tackle Ikeem Allen, cornerback Heath Harding and safety Tony Reid on defense – but they return their entire offensive line and look forward to the return from injuries of center Danny Godlevske and right tackle Paul Doyle. Godlevske – perhaps the MAC’s best center, Martin said – missed all but the opener. Doyle missed the last eight games.
Running back and Talawanda product Maurice Thomas also should be back, fortifying a running game that got better as the season progressed. Fourth-year junior Kenny Young finished the season ranked seventh in the MAC with an average of 106.8 all-purpose yards per game.
Defensively, linebackers Junior McMullen and De’Andre Montgomery both missed significant time with injuries and are expected to be back, and defensive linemen Dean Lemon and Paul Moses also should be back.
Despite the record, Martin believes Miami overall is better going into next season than the RedHawks were coming out of last season.
“At the end of every season, we evaluate the entire program,” Martin said. “Our special teams were better. They took a giant step forward. We ran the ball better, but we didn’t pass as efficiently. Our defense was hit-and-miss. There were times we played well, and times we didn’t defend the run too well. We’ll have a bunch of three-year starters back defensively who could come back hungry because they didn’t play as well as they could have.”
“We have to get back to being more consistent,” Martin added, pointing out that Miami’s season-closing 3-2 stretch included an impressive 24-14 win over East Division-champion Akron. “We did better the last few weeks of the season.”
Martin also is looking forward to seeing the impact on recruiting of having a completed Athletic Performance Center for a full cycle. The gleaming new facility, located within steps of the north end of Yager Stadium, opened last January, but most of the next recruiting class will most likely be redshirted.
Martin is confident that Miami remains on the right track and headed in the right direction, especially with next year’s seniors.
“This is the class we’ve been waiting to grow up,” he said. “We felt like this was a MAC-championship class. We’re going to be crazy competitive in the MAC. We’ve proved that we can play with everybody in this league.”
Now they have to prove they can beat everybody in the league.